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Captain America/Winter Soldier: A Movie Review
As you know, we've had the Avengers movie. The faithful are still waiting for the Justice League live-action movie. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect that at least one major problem that confronts D.C. Studios is technical. Its what I think of as a problem of choreography.
I am using the word choreography in, more or less, the usual way. Obviously, though, I am not suggesting the Justice League movie be made as a musical. I guess I should really say powers choreography. That is to say, how do you orchestrate the powers and abilities of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, maybe Wonder Woman, and perhaps the Flash, in a way that does not come off as clumsy or 'cheesy' in a live-action movie?
Its one thing to do this in the comics and cartoons, where the readers and viewers' own imaginations can be counted on to do much of the heavy lifting. Its quite another to pull it off with live-action. Marvel Studios have figured it out with Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man. We await the results of D.C. Studios' efforts.
Captain America (for Marvel) and the Batman (for D.C.) are two of the best bridge characters that I can think of in the universe of cartoon/comic superheroes. That is to say, that they each move seamlessly between the realms of the super and the normal. In other words, they can be with their truly super-powered associates, having their super-powered adventures, against their super-powered enemies, and be more than credible factors in those scenarios. But then, they can each transition to a down and gritty, mortal-ized, bareknuckle, street-level way of doing things, against their down and gritty, mortal-ized, bareknuckle, street-level adversaries.
For example, we all know that Captain America---a previously trained soldier---was a young man called Steve Rogers, who was physically augmented by the super soldier serum treatment. He has superhuman strength, speed, reflexes; and he can jump out of airplanes without a parachute.
There is a scene in Winter Soldier in which the good Captain leads a S.H.I.E.L.D strike teams on a hostage rescue mission. One of the bad guys the Captain faces himself, is the leader of the terrorists. This guy turns out to be something of a martial arts dynamo. This villain is mortal. He has no "powers." We are never led to believe otherwise. He's just an amazing martial arts dynamo.
In their hand-to-hand skirmish, the terrorist actually holds his own against "the greatest soldier in history" for a bit. In the middle of their fight the bad guy has occasion to say, "I thought Captain America was more than just a shield and a mask."
Captain Rogers took this as an invitation to disarm and level the playing field, as it were. He does so by removing his mask and putting his shield on his back. They resumed their combat on this, now truly empty-handed basis. That is an example of what I mean when I talk about Captain America's ability to transition seamlessly from the super to the relatively normal. I think this is broadly indicative of how the character was constructed and developed over the decades.
The two movies, The Avengers and Winter Soldier, represent Captain America's transition from the super to the relatively normal.
Batman is a similar kind of character. He has no superhuman powers or abilities whatsoever. He is merely one of the deadliest martial artists in the world; one of the most proficient ninjas, in fact. We all understand that the Batman is without peer as a hand-to-hand combatant.
The Dark Knight is also something of a scientist and detective. We all understand that he is a tactical mastermind. He tends to play the role of the battlefield general, when the Justice League does battle. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody, human or extraterrestrial, who can outthink this guy.
The Batman has trained his mind and body to the outer human limits. And of course, he has all kinds of cool gadgets, vehicles, and equipment. But he has not been physically or mentally enhanced in any way. He is entirely mortal and ordinarily human.
As I said, both Captain America and the Batman transition seamlessly between the realms of the super and the relatively normal. They both do so in cartoons and comics.
Marvel Studios has figured out how to exhibit Captain America in both the super and relatively normal dimensions in live-action.
D.C. Studios has only figured out how to exhibit live-action Batman in the relatively normal dimension, but not in the super.
Think of it this way. Let's take two pairs: Captain America and Thor; and Batman and Superman.
Both pairs work really well together in the comics and cartoons. I'm oversimplifying here, but with those mediums you can give your imagination free reign. You can draw whatever you want, animate whatever you want, and get it produced; and what's more, the cost ought not be prohibitive.
But making a live-action movie for a major studio is a different matter altogether. Real actors---not just their voices---cost money. Wardrobe costs money. Cameras, crews, equipment, and the director and staff cost money. Special effects cost money. Set design costs money. Shooting on location costs money. And so forth.
With all that in mind, the challenge of a live-action movie, is to bring together Captain America and Thor and Batman and Superman in such a way that does not come off as clumsy or 'cheesy.'
Marvel Studios has done it with Captain America and Thor.
D.C. Studios may be still trying to figure out how to do it with the Batman and Superman, in live-action.
Question: How has Marvel Studios pulled it off?
Answer: The short answer, in my opinion, is Captain America's shield.
Question: How so?
Answer: Captain America's shield is, effectively, the bridge between Captain America's 'normal' and 'super' modes. That shield was made by ordinary human science at its best, by ordinary human beings at their best, on Earth. And yet the shield has been demonstrated to be able to withstand anything. It is virtually indestructible and can even withstand Mjonir, the hammer of the God of Thunder, Mighty Thor. This is crucial, in my view, because it suggests that Captain America can, indeed, punch with the big boys, as it were. You get the idea that the Captain can actually face the same threats that Thor, at his power level, is naturally called upon to face.
The shield, then, facilitates the bringing together of the powers and abilities of both Captain America and Thor. There are practical consequences, I think, for the choreography in a live-action film.
What about the Batman and Superman?
Batman neither has any offensive weapon that can hurt Superman, nor any defensive apparatus that can withstand the Man of Steel. Obviously, then, the Batman cannot face the same threats that Superman, at his power level, is naturally called upon to face. In comics and cartoons that is not a problem. That is because the canvass is as broad as it needs to be, to facilitate a division of labor, which allows for the meaningful participation of everyone. Do you follow me?
But, again, live-action poses certain constraints, which I have already alluded to.
I don't have the answer to this dilemma myself, of course. But as I just think about it, the bringing together of the Batman and Superman in live-action, seems to pose a fascinating technical challenge. We all wait to see how and if D.C. Studios meets it.
Of course, you can always give the Batman a special suit of armor. But do you really want to rip off Iron Man?
To return to a previous thread: Not only is the shield of Captain America his bridge between his relatively normal and super modalities; but work has been done to bring together the worlds of Earth and Asgard.
For example, in Thor: The Dark World, the monarch of Asgard, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins)---at Loki's sentencing---has occasion to specifically make the point that Asgardians are not gods. They are born, they grow old, and die, as humans of "Midgard" do.
Then there is a scene in which Natalie Portman's character has occasion to vividly demonstrate, once again, that Asgardian science is perfectly well within the range of human comprehension. Also, I seem to recall that in the First Thor film, the hammer-wielder told Natalie Portman that, to Asgardians, science and what we call "magic" are but two sides of the same phenomena.
D.C. Studios have got to find a way to similarly bridge the "Kryptonian"/Human gap, some way to, if necessary, "enhance" the Batman and "diminish" Superman.
Let me conclude this "review" with two items.
1. Gary Shandling makes a cameo appearance in Winter Soldier, and I, personally find this hilarious. Those of you born before 1980, may remember who he is. He is a stand up comedian, actor, and one or two other things.
You may recall that, twenty-five years ago, he had a very funny show on network television (FOX) called, Its Gary Shandling's Show.
Are you visualizing him? Are you recalling the show?
Now, I am not criticizing his skills as an actor. He's fine and should do more of it. I suppose I'm just being nostalgic.
Anyway, it is hilarious to me, to see him, twenty-five years later, in a business suit (playing a US Senator), whispering into the ear of an apparent co-conspirator: "Hail Hydra."
Hydra, as you know, is an evil organization bent on world domination. It is much like "Cobra," from G.I. Joe, only more insidious.
2. We have been talking about transitions, the way the character of Captain America can readily shift from the relatively normal to the super mode and back again. I suggested to you that the movies The Avengers and Winter Soldier represent the good Captain's shift from 'super' to 'normal' modes.
I thought the bit in the middle of the closing credits was interesting. It seemed to suggest another upcoming Captain America/Avengers film. But the nature of the potential threat even suggested that the team might need additional expertise, say, from people like Jean Gray and/or Professor Xavier. An Avengers/X-Men team up might be what is being called for.
Okay, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much for reading.